How Does a Winch Motor Works

How does that winch motor get things from here to there?

Let’s start by sorting out the winch motor controller from other winches. In this article, we will be discussing winches powered through a battery or an electrical power cord. Air winches are a totally different animal! What is a winch? A winch is something you use to pull an object. You might use a winch to move a car that no longer runs or a load out of a barn. Different parts of a winch combine to make an effective machine. What about a hoist? Are they the same thing?


Nope. A winch is designed to pull things that are either on a flat surface or on a very small hill. If you need something to pull, for example, a tractor out of a hole, you need a hoist. A hoist will have extra braking for the safety of both your pulled object and you.

The drum: Winches have a round drum in them that allows wire or rope to be spooled around. As the object you are moving comes closer to the winch, more wire or rope is wrapped around the drum. If you are choosing a winch for a project, consider the distance. The further you need to pull your object, the more room you will need on your drum. Rope will typically take up more space than wire, so also consider what you will be using as your line.

The motor: As we mentioned, a winch motor will have an electric motor. The motor allows the drum to move–the heavier the object, the more power the motor will need. The way the drum gets turned is actually through magnets. The drum is set up with opposing poles on either end. Opposing poles of a magnet resist each other. This resistance forces the drum to turn. Many winch motors feature ways to adjust the power so objects with variable weights can be pulled with just one device. It is just as important to make sure you don’t use *too much* power as it is to make sure you use enough. Pulling an object too quickly can result in injuries to you or the object you are pulling.

The gear trains: If your load is very heavy, you’ll near gears to help pull. If you take a look inside a music box, you’ll see gears that cause the mechanism to turn. In a spur gear configuration, a smaller gear will turn a larger gear. The size of the bigger gear will determine how big of an object you can pull with the winch.

Some winches will even have gears that look like they are orbiting each other:

  • The smaller gear will go around the bigger gear. Those are called elliptical or planetary gears.
  • A worm gear has a line where the gears meet instead of just one point of contact.

You might see a worm gear on a tow truck’s winch. Most winches use spur or planetary gears, because they are faster.

The power: If the winch is electrical, it will need an electrical power supply. “AC” means “alternating current”. That is the type of power that comes from a wall outlet. Many winches are powered with a regular electrical cord plugged into the wall. “DC” means “direct current”. This is the type of power that comes from batteries. Winches can have batteries that are dedicated to operating the winch, or you can hook the device up to a vehicle’s battery.

Since winches don’t pull a lot of current, they can pretty easily be operated by hooking them up to your car. If your car (or truck) is off while you operate the winch, you will not likely drain the battery.

Jonathan writes on behalf of Elreg, a company which works on the technique of winch motor controller.

Erin Emanuel

One Comment

  1. Very instructive. These days I am learning a lot about winches. I have come at the conclusion that a worm gear transmission would be more suitable for heavier loads as well as for the winch longer life. By the other hand, somebody who uses a winch mainly in off road and auto competitions would prefer a planetary gear for more speed, mentioning that a lighter car would be required for the sake of winch longevity.

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